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In a career that has always threatened to be swept aside by tabloid hype surrounding his drug use, his bizarre behaviour, disastrous live shows and his strange and nebulous relationships, it is often easy to forget that Pete Doherty is a talented and prolific writer and musician.
Babyshambles, the side project that became a main project after the hiatus, disintegration, reunion and re-disintegration of cult-favourite garage band The Libertines, has always been a strange beast: capable at times of producing authentic and genuinely interesting music, but seemingly always playing second fiddle to the roller-coaster ride that is Pete Doherty’s personal life.
Sequel to the Prequel is their latest offering, their first since 2007's Shotter’s Nation. It is a hit and miss affair, in that way serving as a microcosm for Doherty’s career. The album opens with Fireman, a rush of energetic guitars and percussion amidst a backdrop of mumbled sound bites. At first glance this seems “business as usual” for a Babyshambles release, but as the album continues there are moments of brilliance, especially as the input of the rest of the band — Mick Whitnall, Drew McConnell , and Jamie Morrison — comes to the fore.
Picture Me in the Hospital is the most touching and genuine track on the album. A downbeat tune, it shows a penchant for the pastoral not seen elsewhere on the album. Its lyrics — based on bassist Drew McConnell’s horrific bike accident two years ago, which it has been reported served as the impetus for the band to record this third album — is pensive and reflective.
The album swings between twee pop and dark, introspective numbers like New Pair and the confessional Fall From Grace. There are times when Doherty’s fetish for British culture comes off as too cute and this has never been as evident as in the title track, which is a McCartney-esque faux music hall piece that sounds like something that hit the cutting room floor during the White Album sessions.
Throughout Sequel to the Prequel, the influences are classic and obvious, continuing in the fine tradition of parochial British rock music: from The Beatles to The Smiths and Stereophonics, with influences from abroad mixed in. Dr. No, for example, is a dance-hall tinged reggae track that is as musically light-hearted as it is lyrically obtuse. Minefield is a highlight of the album and ranks as one of the best tracks produced under the Babyshambles moniker.
What does the future hold for Doherty and Babyshambles? Who knows? And, frankly, who cares? Despite his massive natural talent, Doherty has released a decidedly unremarkable album, and the constant stream of personal issues — drug addiction, rehab, stints in prison and the recent bizarre news that he’s opened a vintage shop where delusional fans can pay 100 quid for a used cigarette butt — serves as a distraction from the business of making music.